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Aug 13, 2012 08:03 AM

De-"Q'ing" BBQ


I smoked a pork butt for tacos yesterday, using my own Southwestern/Mexican style rub, and prepared a tomatillo and chile pepper salsa. I wanted to get away from the standard BBQ flavor profile for a while and experience some of those wonderful tacos that I've had before that have some smokiness combined with super tender meat.

The pork came out perfectly cooked, and with the salsa in a corn tortilla the tacos were great. But the flavor was still standard Southern style 'Q, making the tacos taste like Southern-Mexican "fusion." Not what I was going for. I was planning on freezing some of the leftover pork to do a pork, hominy & green chile type stew in the Fall, but it will just taste like somebody dumped Carolina pulled pork into it.

Though I used apple wood and a bit of hickory, I suspect it was the hickory which gave the BBQ flavor I was trying to avoid. I would find some mesquite to use, but I think it would overwhelm the food, wouldn't it?

What do you suggest wood-wise, or what else would you do differently? Thanks!

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  1. I think you are on the right path. Use more fruit woods like apple, cherry, and/or maple. Also, you may want to consider smoking it for a couple of hours and then finishing it in the oven? That might help knock down some of the "grill" flavor that you are looking to limit.

    Whatever you do, don't use Mesquite. It's WAY too strong a flavor for what you are going for. If I use mesquite at all these days, it's only for about 30 minutes (one chunk) because it can really impart a bitter flavor.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Db Cooper

      Thanks, DB. I actually smoked it for four hours, then finished it for another four hours in the oven. Thanks for confirming my mesquite concerns. I wonder if oak would impart the flavor I'm looking for? I imagine some vaquero coming from the range back in the day eating these tacos, and want the bit of smokiness he would have tasted back then.

      1. re: EarlyBird

        I think what is hurting you is the hickory. And really I'm not sure if Oak is the answer either. I know that Arthur Bryant's, the legendary BBQ shack in Kansas City, smokes their meats with a base of oak and then adds hickory.

        First, I'd eliminate the hickory. I'd then try just the oak. And you really only need to smoke it for two hours, three at the most. After that, you are really just wasting wood because the butt will have taken on all the smoke it can.

        1. re: Db Cooper

          Wood wise I think maple or apple may do the trick.


          1. re: Db Cooper

            Interesting about Arthur Bryant's, DB. I've been there (and up the street to Gates, which I marginally prefer), and didn't know what wood was used. Thanks for the information.

      2. First off, let me say that I'm not a smoker :) I wish I was in this case, but I simply don't have the time.

        However, I know that if you're using hickory, or mesquite it really permeates that meat. Professional barbequers (think Myron Mixon) often employ fruit woods like peach, apple, and even cherry. But you said you're trying to veer away from this.

        In short, I believe you gotta get away from smoking, period if that's what you are aiming for. In this particular case, I'd suggest to take a page out of Rick Bayless (he came from a barbecuing family by the way). I found it odd that he actually BOILS, yes, BOILS his pork shoulder when it comes to making tacos. It's his complex sauces that give it flavor.

        Being as I don't have the time to smoke, I can say that I can get FANTASTIC results in a Dutch oven with a pork shoulder if I don't want to go the Rick Bayless route (and I often don't--the notion of boiling a perfectly good pork shoulder irks me).

        Good luck in your quest.

        3 Replies
        1. re: stormshadow

          I've actually done Mexican and Cuban style pork shoulder numerous times by just roasting or braising it in the oven and pulling it for tacos. I just wanted a bit of smokiness this time around, but didn't nail the flavor profile I was going for.

          Bayless boils pork? ! I did not know that. Nor did I know he came from a barbecuing family. Good ol' Rick Bayless.

          By the way, if you've got the time to do a long roasted pork butt, but not the time to tend to a smoker for 8 hrs, just smoke it for a few hours then put it in the oven at 250 for the remaining hours and go on with your life. The meat only taking smoke for the first two or three hours anyway.


          1. re: stormshadow

            I'd agree with stormshadow here (like the name, BTW).
            When I ran a restaurant, I'd boil entire legs for pulled pork. Of course when put that way, it sounds pretty harsh....maybe "braising" sounds better?
            Anyways, I think only a touch of smoke (maybe an hour in the smoker) then on to a dutch oven or roasting pan with plenty of flavored, seasoned braising liquid (I'm thinking onion/garlic/cilantro/lime/etc and your rub seasonings).

            1. re: porker

              I've been braising baby backs all summer--in beer--nothing else added to the liquid, all the seasonings are in the rub. You can finish them under the broiler or on a grill. I agree--braising sounds better than boiling. Plus braise vs. boil is all about low and slow vs. a quicker end result, no? Not to mention if it works for Rick Bayless...

          2. Unless I'm not understanding, it sounds like the smoke flavor wasn't pleasing in this context. So I'd make the shoulder without smoke next time, or with very litte. In fact I'd just start it on the smoker and finish in the oven or on the stove.

            1. I would suggest using a thorough rub down with your rub and let it sit for a week. Let those flavours really get in there.
              Then smoke for a couple hours and then wrap in foil. It can go into the oven at that point.

              You may also want to fortify the S/W-Mex flavour with some more rub after it's pulled. If you make it with salt and it's salty enough, make a batch without. My BBQ seasoning (And most for that matter) don't contain salt or sugar. That way I can control them better. More seasoning doesn't mean more salt for instance.


              4 Replies
              1. re: Davwud

                Good idea. I'm suspecting that hickory wood was the culprit, and just obliterated the Southwestern spice rub I used.

                1. re: EarlyBird

                  Exactly. I like to grill turkey legs and thighs, but I just use regular charcoal, indirect heat. Hickory has a very distinct flavor.

                  1. re: wyogal

                    So you add no wood when you grill the birds?

                    1. re: EarlyBird

                      Nope, just charcoal. usually the stuff on sale. And they turn out great!

              2. I'm with those who say, for this application, don't smoke. I'd give the butt some grill time for just a little char, then do the actual cooking in the oven or crockpot.

                I generally hate Mesquite, especially for smoking -- it is just too acrid and bitter (I never understand those who call it sweet). But for a quick hot sear on the grill, it may be just what you need.

                Stormshadow, above, is absolutely right -- Bayless does call for boiling meat -- ick -- and that's the "authentic" way, which is depressing. This is why I no longer do things the authentic way. The idea of boiling a pork shoulder in plain water without seasoning and having to rely on a sauce to make it taste good depresses me. I tend to use a rich stock and flavorful aromatics, but if you use a crock pot or dutch oven you don't need to use anything at all other than maybe a nice rub. The natural juices will be enough (and unlike on a BBQ, you won't lose those juices through the grate).